Automatic Gates’ Deadly Legacy

Last month, the automated gate industry implemented a new voluntary standard ostensibly designed to decrease the chances that individuals will become entrapped, injured or killed by a motorized gate. Will it matter? Automatic gates have been crushing people with regularity since communities and businesses began installing them in the early 1970s, despite occasional education campaigns, amended standards and high recognition among industry and regulators about the safety hazards.

“There have been multiple cases where the gates don’t reverse even though they have a reversing mechanism,” says attorney Bryan Crews, who represents the family of a 12-year-old Florida girl who suffered permanent brain injuries after a 2013 incident. “It’s a hidden trap waiting to spring on unsuspecting children and adults. With more and more gated communities and office buildings you are going to see increasing reports of injuries and deaths.”

A Paucity of Data

On January 23, 2013, Johanna Lugo, was awaiting the school bus at the entrance to Placid Lake Townhomes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida, when she somehow became entrapped between the bottom of the motorized gate and the curb at the entrance to the subdivision. Lugo was discovered at about 9 a.m. by a neighbor who was returning to the complex. As she approached the gate, she noticed that they were open, and Lugo unconscious lying under the partially opened left portion of the entry gate, lying on her back, facing upward and having trouble breathing. The neighbor and another woman were unable to physically push the gate off her body; Lugo was eventually freed by a jack that lifted the gate off of its hinges. The loss of oxygen caused ischemic, hypoxic brain damage and other severe injuries that require constant medical care.

Other victims did not get help in time, and succumbed to their injuries. Among the recent deaths:

In July, a 63-year-old Oakland, California woman was crushed to death by an automatic gate at the tool and die shop she owned. The woman was found pinned by an employee, with her running vehicle parked nearby. Officials said that the woman had reached through the gate to open it with her keys, and became trapped between the gate and the electrical box.

In May 2015, 8-year-old Matthew Cattlet died in North Las Vegas after getting stuck in an electronic gate. Police said that the boy was crawling through a rectangular hole, when his friend accidentally triggered the gate mechanism to open.

In July 2014, Crevan O’Ciellaigh, 28, died after he was crushed by an automatic gate at the Montecito Condominiums, in West Palm Beach, Florida. According to police reports, O’Ciellaigh was found on the ground, pinned by the northwest entrance/exit gate, which was slightly opened. O’Ciellaigh was sitting up facing east and the gate was on top of his back.

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